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On September 1, 1939, Operation Pied Piper commenced and thousands of children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to keep them safe from the war that was just beginning.
Among the evacuees to Little Weinwold is William Beech, 8, left in the care of Tom Oakley, a widower and a rather crusty loner. William is much to small for his age, frightened of everything and covered in black and blue bruises. Inside he duffel, Tom find a belt with a large buckle and instructions to use it on William whenever he sees fit. Appalled by what he sees that first day, Mr. Tom, as he tells William to call him, begins to soften towards the boy, taking him out and buying him some appropriate clothing and boots, feeding him well and doctoring the bruises.
As William's body heals, he comes out of his frightened shell and even develops a fondness for Mr. Tom's dog Sammy. But William has a bed-wetting problem that continues despite everything. Soon William meets Zach, another evacuee, and they become best friends. And other kids begin to join in on their fun. And it turns out that William is quite a talented artist, receiving some art supplies from Mr. Tom for his ninth birthday. Things go well until school starts.
It turns out that William cannot read, that in London his teachers ignored him and the other students taunted him. When all his friends to into their proper class, William is put in with the younger kids who are just beginning school. Mr. Tom begins to teach him to read and by the end of the term, William has conquered not just reading but his bed-wetting problem as well.
Life for William, Mr. Tom and Sammy the dog has evolved into a comfortable, happy companionship and Mr. Tom has even begun to participate in village activities again, something he hasn't done in forty years after the death of his wife and new baby son, also named William. But one day a letter arrives from William's mother, asking for her son to come home for a visit.
And it is with very heavy hearts that Mr. Tom and William say good-bye at the train. William is laden with all kinds of lovely, friendly gifts for his mother as he leave and promises to write to Mr. Tom as soon as he can. When weeks go by and not letter arrives, Mr. Tom and Sammy take the train to London to find out if things are going well for William, arriving just at the Blitz begins.
And yes, he does find him - locked in a closet, tied up to a pipe in it and holding a baby who turns out to be his illegitimate sister. Traumatized and blaming himself for the baby's death, William is taken to a hospital. Mr. Tom keeps watch and makes himself useful when people injured by the bombing are brought in. After a few days, however, he is told that William is going to be transferred to a home where he will be given psychiatric treatment.
Not agreeing that this is the best thing for William, Mr. Tom resorts to something desperate. Will the two ever make it back to Little Weinwold or is this the end of things for Mr. Tom and William?
Good Night, Mr. Tom
is Michelle Magorian's first novel. It was written in 1981 and hasn't lost any of its appeal nor does it have a dated feeling. It is probably her most well-known work, particularly since it has been made into a television movie (ITV in the UK, Masterpiece Theater in the US, and with John Thaw, a favorite) and a play.
I have read Good Night, Mr. Tom
a few times and never get tired of it. The writing is elegant, and Magorian has great talent in fleshing out her characters so that they are believable and well-developed. And the same can be said for her settings, actually.
Magorian also has a way of presenting difficult issues without getting too graphic or going overboard. In this novel alone, there are issues of abuse, bullying, anti-Semitism, skewed religious beliefs, the death of children and suicide. These are dreadful things, and yet not presented in such a way that they will disturb young readers, but enough is said to make this book appeal to an adult reader as well. And in the end, it is a novel of healing, hope, love and trust, and these are the issues that predominate, even without a really pat ending.
If you haven't read Good Night, Mr. Tom
, be warned - it is a tearjerker, but oh, so worth it. But there is much in the story that will make you chuckle, especially William's very outgoing friend Zack, whom I haven't mentioned much even though he is a good part of the book and who makes me smile just thinking about him.
This old favorite is worthy of a first read if you haven't already read it, or worthy of another read if you have read it before.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library
By: Alex Baugh,
1940 - Twins Jimmy and Patrick Sweeney, 6, have the idea of selling the frogs they have caught to the other kids in their East End, London neighborhood, but as the war continues, evacuation to the country with 3 other of their 11 siblings puts end to their frog enterprise. Unfortunately, when they reach the village they are evacuated to, Jimmy and Patrick are taken by separate families, as are siblings Jeanie, Irene and Bobby. It is Mrs. Cribbins who takes Jimmy and she doesn't seem very nice right from the start.
2012 - Nathan Pepper, 12, isn't too happy about moving from London to a small village in the country because of his dad's new job, especially since it doesn't seem to have a skateboard park anywhere. And it doesn't help that the first night in his new house, Nathan wakes up suddenly, hearing a strange noise. Creeped out, he nevertheless decides to see what it is. Going up the stairs to another bedroom, Nathan can hear distinct crying but even stranger, when he opens the door, the bedroom is completely changed - no longer neat, clean and shiny, now it was a dirty, dusty attic with a little boy under a thin blanket sobbing for his mum.
Jimmy's life with the Cribbins family is much worse than expected. He sleeps in a lonely, dark attic, he does most of the chores in the house, and than he is sent outside, not allowed back in the house til evening. And he isn't fed much either, so now he was starving. Nathan brings him some cake, but when Mrs. Cribbins finds somes crumbs in Jimmy's bed, he is accused of stealing their food and is given no breakfast.
Totally baffled, Nathan continues to go upstairs at night to find Jimmy again, but to no avail.
Meantime, in 2012, Nathan starts at his new school and things begin to look up for him as he makes friends and finds fellow skateboarders; and in 1940, Jimmy begins school, too, but only after doing his chores. And, though the two Cribbins children ride the bus, Jimmy is made to walk the long distance to school. He no sooner arrives and he is picked on by a group of boys resentful of evacuees. While two hold him down, another boy, Frank, takes an industrial staple gun from behind the school and staples Jimmy's back. The only good part of that day is that Jimmy discovers that his twin, Patrick, is at the school, too.
That night, Nathan is able to visit Jimmy again in the upstairs bedroom and once more, he brings the starving, now injured little boy some food.
But can Nathan help Jimmy across the years? In the autumn, he is able to visit Jimmy fairly often, bringing him food and company, but as winter begins, it becomes more difficult. Nathan's concern for Jimmy is really peaked when he sees a picture of the twins boys in a newspaper article about the village's evacuees. And later, in another article, he learns that Jimmy has died from malnutrition. To make matters worse, Nathan's Aunty Miranda comes to stay indefinitely in the upstairs bedroom, and he fears he won't be able to see and help Jimmy before it is too late. So, Nathan decides that desperate times call for desperate measures and he hatches a really stinky plan to drive his Aunty M out of that room and into another. But, can a stinky plan succeed?
Shalini Boland based A Shirtful of Frogs
on the real experiences of her father-in-law, Paul Boland, who was evacuated with his twin Peter at the age of 5. And in writing his story, she has brought attention to this important, yet disturbing and sad aspect of evacuation. Most of us probably think that the people who took in the WWII evacuees from London were such kind, caring, concerned people, sometimes strict but not abusive. But actually that wasn't always the case. Kids like Paul Boland/Jimmy Sweeney were abused, starved and used as free servants while the people they lived with collected the government money meant for their care, and used it for their own family's benefit.
Boland says she created Nathan to give Jimmy a needed friend in this well-written time-slip story, but of course, that doesn't happen in real life. A Shirtful of Frogs
is, in effect, a wonderful tribute to Boland's father-in-law and all the children who suffered the way Paul/Jimmy did when their parents trustingly sent them off to live with strangers in what they believed would be relative safety.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the author
to enter a Goodreads Giveaway in progress until October 31, 2012 for a signed copy of A Shirtful of Frogs
open to US, CA and GB residents.
This trailer for A Shirtful of Frogs
is interesting both for the book's promotion and for its use of public domain actual footage:
By: Alex Baugh,
Eleven year old Felicity Bathburn Budwig isn’t really happy about being transplanted from her parent’s flat in London to her grandmother’s coastal house in Bottlebay, Maine because of the blitz in 1941. To begin with, her grandmother, known as The Gram, and her father’s brother and sister, Uncle Gideon and Aunt Miami, are all angry at her dad Danny and her English mom Winnie, and Felicity doesn’t know why. And they are a strange bunch. Aunt Miami (really named Florence, but that has no 'pizazz') is obsessed with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
; Uncle Gideon has a weird sense of humor and is up to something very secretive; The Gram simply rules with a kind but iron hand.
Then, Felicity, or Flissy as The Gram immediately nicknames her, is told she must never go into a certain locked room nor is she to disturb a mysterious person called Captain Derek, locked away in his own room, until he is ready to come out.
Gradually, however, Flissy begins to adjust to the strange Blackburn household and even begins to like it. Until one day when a mysterious letter arrives, postmarked from Portugal but definitely written by her father. What is he doing in Portugal? He is supposed to be in London with Winnie. And why did Uncle Gideon immediately take this letter and go into the forbidden-to-enter room. And each time one of these letters arrives, he does the same thing, but then Flissy notices that he would later cross the beach outside the house and disappear. A mystery indeed and she is determined to get to the bottom of it.
By now, Flissy also has an accomplice. The elderly sea captain she imagined behind the closed door turns out to be a boy named Derek, a little older than she is, who had been quarantined while he was being treated for an apparently mild case of polio. It has caused him to lose the ability to use his left and so he is reluctant to leave his room or go out in public. When another letter arrives from Portugal and Uncle Gideon goes into his mysterious room with it, Flissy talks Derek into pretending he needs help and crying out for his uncle. The hope is that Uncle Gideon will come running, forgetting to lock the door and Flissy can sneak in a see the letter.
The plan works but Flissy and Derek are no closer to knowing anything – the letter is written in code - nothing but a bunch of numbers. They spend the rest of the summer trying to work out the code. They do find out where Uncle Gideon goes after receiving a letter when they successfully follow – the problem here is that you need a boat to get to the small lighthouse island he rows to. And they do manage to talk the mailman into taking them over one day, so that they are finally able to solve one part of the mystery.
But then the letters from Portugal stop coming, and both Flissy and Uncle Gideon are worried about that. Has something happened to her parents? Now, Flissy is more determined than ever to solve the mystery of the number code. But how?
While all this is going on, Flissy finds out that Aunt Miami has won a raffle she that she had carelessly entered aunt’s name in. The prize is 20 minutes of stage time at the town’s talent and variety show. The problem is that even though Aunt Miami constantly performs Romeo and Juliet at home, she has terrible stage fright.The Romeo and Juliet Code
is a fun mystery in the same vein as a Nancy Drew book, and being a big Nancy fan, I liked that about this book. The mystery is there t
By: Alex Baugh,
is a coming of age story with a twist. While visiting the small Welsh mining town where she was billeted during World War II, Carrie Willow, a 42 year old widow with four children, tells them the story of her evacuation. At the start of the war, Carrie, then 11 and her younger brother Nick, 9, were put on a train along with so many other school children, to escape the anticipated bombing of London by the Germans.
In Wales, they end up living with a bullying, miserly shopkeeper, Mr. Evans, and his weak, oppressed younger sister, whom they are told to call Auntie Lou, eventually adjusting to life in this strained household.
Some months after arriving at the Evans home, Carrie and Nick are sent to fetch a Christmas goose at Druid’s Bottom, home of Mr. Evans other sister, Dilys Gotobed. Arriving at Druid’s Bottom, they discover that Albert Sandwich, a boy they met on the train to Wales, is living there, along with the seemingly magical housekeeper Hepzibah Green and Johnny Gotobed who has cerebral palsy. That night, Hepzibah tells them a story about a slave boy who was brought there and died within a year. Before he died, he cursed the house, saying that if his skull is ever removed from the house, some disaster would occur. Carrie half believed this story, even though Albert discredits it.
Happy and comfortable at Druid’s Bottom, Carrie and Nick spend as much time there as possible, entertained by Hepzibah’s stories, sated by her good and plentiful food and comforted by her warmth,. It is the polar opposite of life with Mr. Evans.
But everything changes when Mrs. Gotobed dies and Mr. Evans inherits everything, including Druid’s Bottom. Hepzibah and Mr. Johnny are told they have a month to make other arrangements for themselves. When Albert claims that Mrs. Gotobed said she had a will which took care of them, Carrie fears Mr. Evans may have taken it, and out of selfishness, denies it ever existed. In the middle of all of this, Carrie’s mother writes that she now wants the children to come live with her in Glasgow.
Bawden is spot on depicting the internal preadolescent emotional life of her character, giving the title of this story its irony. Carrie is a bundle of mixed emotions and conflicting feelings at war with each other, coupled with an overactive imagination. She has an overwhelming need to please the people around her, but also has feelings of anxiety about not being good enough. She experiences feelings of jealousy and hostility at her brother for his ability to get what he wants from people one minute and the next minute, she feels lovingly responsible and protective of him. And like most children, Carrie doesn’t completely understand the circumstances surrounding the adults in her world. This not understanding is what leads Carrie to commit the act that will arrest her “coming of age” and result a lifetime of living with guilt, prompting her to return to Druid’s Bottom with her own children 30 years later. Carrie’s War
is perhaps the most well-known book in Nina Bawden’s vast oeuvre. Just a little older than her main character, Bawden was evacuated from London to Wales at 14 in 1939, but returned to London in 1942. I am sure that Bawden’s experiences are what make Carrie’s War
such a compelling story – as they say write what you know. Carrie's War
was written in 1973, but still resonates in today’s world, making it de
By: Alex Baugh,
For a short time between December 2,1938 and September 1, 1939, trainloads of Jewish children under the age of 17 were sent from Germany to Great Britain for safety. Altogether, almost 10,000 children and teens made the trip. My Family for the War is a novel about how the Kindertransport changed the life of one child.
Frnaziska Mangold,10, thought of herself as a Protestant girl living a comfortable life in Berlin. Her family, originally Jewish, had converted generations ago, and though she considered herself to be Christian, now the Nazis don’t. Marked as a Jew, life has become precarious for her and her best friend Bekka Liebich. They have even mapped out as many hiding places as they could find in their Berlin neighborhood, just in case they needed to escape from some Nazi bullies.
When a sponsorship to come to America fell through for the Liebich family, Bekka is registered for the Kindertransport, and at the last minute, so is Ziska. But only Ziska is chosen. Just before she leaves for Britain, her mother gives her the cross she had received years ago at her confirmation to remember her by. Ziska promises never to take it off until they are together again.
It takes a while in Britain before Ziska finally finds a place in a family. The Shepards, Matthew, Amanda and the teenage son Gary are orthodox Jews, so when Amanda sees Ziska’s cross, she doesn’t really want her to stay with them. But it is Gary who decides he wants her as a sister, and Anglicizes her name to Frances.
5 Comments on My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve, last added: 3/8/2012
By: Alex Baugh,
It is the summer of 1940 and the war has finally found its way to the home front. Air raids in London are becoming more and more frequent and bombs are beginning to fall. And so when her uncle in Vancouver, BC writes to her parents in London and suggests that they send 9 year old daughter Sara Warren to Canada for the duration, they also think this would be a good idea.
They decide to place Sara in the care of Lady Drume, who is making the same trip for war related reasons. Sara has some reservations about meeting Lady Drume, but her mother reassures that it will be fine, though she does admit that Lady Drume is a funny old thing.
And that turns out to be an understatement. Lady Drume immediately begins to order Sara around, before Mrs. Warren has even said good-bye, and once on the ship, she demands “implicit obedience” from Sara. This means staying in their cabin and never wandering around the ship alone. But when the friendly old sailor Wilfrid Horace Mickleby a/k/a/ Sparky invites up on deck to watch the ship weigh anchor, Sara commits her first infraction of Lady Drume many rules.
Luckily, Sara sits next to the friendly ship doctor for meals, who later takes her to the lounge to meet the other children being evacuated from the East End of London, including siblings Ernie and Maggie. Sara immediately likes them, but Lady Drume tells her she may not hang out with “guttersnipes” while under her care.
Lady Drume is, to say the least, a dictatorial snob. Not
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By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK
Oxford University Press author John Welshman went to his first literary festival last week, and has kindly written a post about the experience for OUPblog. Below he talks about some of the most interesting questions the audience asked him, and reflects on the differences between academic historian and popular historians, inspired by some of the fellow writers he met there.
John Welshman is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Lancaster University. His book, Churchill’s Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain, tells the moving real-life stories of British schoolchildren evacuated out of major cities during the Second World War.
Last Wednesday afternoon found me at the Words by the Water Literary Festival in Keswick. It was a fascinating experience, not least because it was not only the first time that I had been to a literary festival as a speaker, but it was also the first time that I had been to one in any capacity. My Chairman had been an evacuee, and at the start we established that there were at least half a dozen evacuees in the audience. There was a lively question-and-answer session afterwards:
Did parents have to send their children away? No, evacuation was voluntary, and indeed registrations remained surprisingly low in the Autumn of 1939. In fact fewer evacuees turned up at the railway stations than had been expected, and it was partly because of this that the operation was telescoped, leading to confusion in the Reception Areas, where the numbers of the parties arriving, and their composition, was different to what had been expected. This also meant that the proportion of the child population sent away varied between the main cities. In terms of the families who took evacuees in, on the other hand, this was compulsory, unless householders could justify their refusal in some way. Again, there were striking variations between the Counties, in the late 1930s, in the amount of accommodation that had been ‘privately reserved’.
How important was social class? A difficult question to answer in that working-class children went to middle-class homes, and middle-class children went to working-class homes. Revisionist historians have argued that rather than evacuation bringing the social classes closer together, it drove them further apart. My own view is that evacuation did reveal the poverty of people in the cities to people living in the countryside, and that this did feed into debates about postwar reconstruction. The bulk of the people evacuated in the ‘official’ Government scheme, in contrast to those evacuated ‘privately’, were working-class children and their mothers.
What part does Churchill play in the book? Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister in September 1939, at the time of the first wave of the evacuation, and Churchill only became Prime Minister in May 1940. Churchill did feature in House of Commons debates from the mid-1930s which reveal the anxiety about aerial bombing that itself was a key influence on planning for evacuation. But the metaphor of ’Churchill’s Children’ is more a device to convey the book’s attempt to focus on the wartime period as a whole, the way I follow the ch
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By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK
John Welshman, author of Churchill’s Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain, blogs about how everyday items like children’s plimsolls can actually say a great deal about the wider issues of poverty and policy during World War II.
You can read John Welshman’s previous OUPblog post here.
Getting friends to read a book manuscript is an interesting process, for often they highlight themes that you are only subconsciously aware of yourself. One who read mine commented that he was struck how much there was about the everyday, including shoes.
And it is true that one of the interesting aspects of the evacuation of September 1939 is the way that it shone a light on aspects of people’s lifestyles that had been ignored in the 1930s. Occasionally commentators such as the Labour MP, Fenner Brockway, in the book Hungry England, had noted that poor children wore the plimsolls that were sold in street markets. But more often this was ignored. But the theme of footwear cropped up right at the start of the evacuation process. In May 1939, for example, civil servants realised that the clothing and footwear of some children would pose problems. It was thought that while there were unlikely to be problems in London, or in towns in Kent and Hampshire, there would be in cities in the Midlands and the North. A circular issued that month informed parents about the amount and type of luggage to be taken. Each child was to carry a gas mask, change of underclothing, night clothes, slippers or plimsolls, spare socks or stockings, toothbrush, comb, towel and handkerchief, warm coat or mackintosh, rucksack, and food for the day. Parents were told the children were to be sent in their thickest clothing and warmest footwear. Moreover the evacuation practices held in the summer of 1939 confirmed that many children had neither warm clothing nor strong footwear. In Leeds, for instance, while the equipment brought was generally good, and all the children had come with gas masks, ‘the greatest weakness is in the supply of footwear’.
The civil servants realised that the success of evacuation would depend on the weather, since many parents waited for the winter before buying their children new shoes. And footwear was certainly a problem in some of the Reception Areas. In Lancaster in the North West, for example, the Billeting Officer advised parents that the money spent on their frequent visits would be better spent on footwear and clothing for their children. He wrote that:
It is very desirable to give the children every opportunity to settle down happily in their new surroundings; and for this reason parents will be wise not to visit their children too frequently. The money spent in such visits would be better spent on thick country footwear, raincoats, overcoats, or warm underclothing for the children.
The Ministry of Health responded on 2 October 1939 with a circular on footwear and clothing. This announced that £7,500 was to be distributed in the Evacuation Areas as contributions to boot and clothing funds. Moreover while the circular continued to encourage voluntary effort, there were some important shifts as time went
Blog: The Children's War
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By: Alex Baugh,
I have just finished rereading Blackout
and All Clear
and find myself wishing that Connie Willis could have kept going. After reading these two books totaling 1,168 pages, I find I have become quite attached to the characters and had a hard time saying goodbye when I came to the end. They are just that good!
The books are based on a simple enough premise. In 2060 Oxford, history is studied by traveling back in time to observe, collect data and interpret events firsthand under the tutelage of Mr. Dunworthy, the history professor in charge of time travel. The story centers on three students interested in different aspects of World War II. Michael Davies, disguised as Mike Davis who wants to go to Dover as an American war correspondent to observe the heroism of the ordinary people who rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk; Merope Ward becomes Eileen O’Reilly, working as a servant to Lady Caroline Denewell in her manor at Backbury, Warwickshire in order to observe evacuees from London; and Polly Churchill becomes Polly Sebastian, a shop girl by day working in the fictitious department store Townsend Brothers on Oxford Street, who wants to observe how Londoners coped during the Blitz.
and All Clear
by Connie Willis makes it clear that there are certain cardinal rules of time travel. First, the traveler may not do anything to alter a past event. But that kink was supposed to be taken care of so that it couldn’t happen. In addition, an historian is not allowed to travel to a divergence point, a critical point in history that can be changed by the presence of the historian. Nor can a predetermined drop site open if t
By: Alex Baugh,
Michelle Magorian is probably best known for her excellent book Goodnight, Mr. Tom,
but she also wrote several other World War II novels for adolescent readers. One of those other books is Back Home.
It begins in the summer of 1945. The war is over and 12 year old Virginia Dickinson is returning to England. Virginia had been a scared, timid 7 year old when she was evacuated to an American family in Connecticut. Five years have passed and she is confident 12 year old who now goes by the name Rusty, the nickname her American family gave her because of her red hair. Rusty isn’t very happy about her return. She barely knows her own mother, who is now a talented mechanic with the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS.) She has a four year old brother Charlie that she has never met and who dislikes Rusty from the beginning. And, she has acquired an American accent, which is greeted with disdain and she is constantly told that she must lose it.
Rusty is temporarily taken to Devon, where her mother and brother have been living with an elderly woman named Beatie. There she meets Beth Hatherly, a girl whose own family seems to resemble the rather bohemian American family Rusty stayed with. She is just beginning to enjoy herself in Devon, when she, her mother and brother move back to her grandmother’s house in London. For Rusty, the move is again temporary, she has been enrolled in a girls’ boarding school, Benwood House, in part to become re-anglicized and hopefully to help her lose her accent.
Rusty’s paternal grandmother is strict, critical and condescending. She intensely dislikes Rusty’s accent, her confidence and her behavior. She also feels Charlie is too coddled by her daughter-in-law and needs to learn to behave like a big boy.
But, if living in her grandmother’s felt like hell on earth, boarding school is worse. Benwood House is definitely not the Chalet School. It is cold, unfriendly, condescending and highly critical of Rusty’s American experience and, of course, the ‘despicable’ accent. Everything Rusty does seems to result in a mark against her and her house, which has the unfortunate name Butt House.
One day, on a trip into town, Rusty overhears some boys calling one member of their group Yank, and she begins talking to him, not realizing that speaking to boys is against the rules. For this infraction, Rusty receives a discipline mark and is called up in front of the whole school and publicly humiliated. The next day she receives the sad news that Beatie has died. Feeling sad and alone, that night, Rusty discovers that she can climb down some scaffolding outside her window, and escape into the woods surrounding the school, feeling free for the first time since arriving in England. She manages to get a note to Yank on her next visit to town, telling him where and when to meet her that night.
The boy, Lance, shows up and they continue to meet at night, exploring and talking. Eventually, they find a bombed out house and Rusty begins to decorate it with the carpentry, painting and stenciling skills she learned in the US. Gradually, however, Lance begins to be accepted by the boys in his school, while things only get worse for Rusty, especially after her father returns home from the army.
It is clear that Rusty’s parents have grown apart during the five years of war. Her mother has become quite independent and refuses to give that up even though she is expected to by bot
By: Alex Baugh,
May 3, 1942 starts out like any other day. Colin Lockwood, 14, is falling asleep in class and his despised history teacher, Mr. Kitchen, catches him, earning Colin an extra homework assignment that night – a four page essay entitled “Why I am a Fool.” Terry Wootton, an evacuee from London and no friend of Colin’s even though they share a desk, finds Colin’s predicament very amusing.
After school, Colin seems to get under foot with everyone. His mother is busy preparing for a wartime fashion show at Nimrods, the shop where she works; his older sister Mary, a nursing student, is in the living room with her soon to be drafted boy friend, Lars; younger sister June, 10, was having her tea with her best friend Pamela. Colin decides to go off to see his father at Exeter Cathedral, where he is a verger.
Returning home with his dad a little later, Colin’s bad day isn’t over yet. He is told he must help serve snacks and sherry at the fashion show, where, as it turns out, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen are also in attendance. Despite this, Colin does very well until he is hit with a bad case of the giggles over the name of the show’s organizer, Mrs. Wimbleball. His mother tells him to leave, and he runs out of the store, remembers he left his jacket in the top of the south tower of the Cathedral, and decides to go and fetch it.
While walking up to the tower, Colin hears the first drone of planes, but continues upward thinking there is plenty of time between sirens sounding and the arrival of the planes. But not this time.
Up in the tower, Colin watches as the bombing of Exeter begins almost immediately. By the time the all clear sounds, a little over an hour later, Exeter is in shambles. On his way home, Colin runs into his enemy Terry Wootton and his mother outside their destroyed fish and chips shop/home. Mrs. Wootton goes to stay with her sister, while Colin and Terry go to the Lockwood house. Colin’s home has been destroyed, but his sister June and his father survived in their shelter – a reinforced cupboard under the stairs. His mother, he later learns, was trapped in an elevator in Nimrods with Mrs. Wimbleball and Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen. His sister Mary has managed to get to the hospital to help out.
June goes to stay with her friend Pamela and his father goes to check the damage to the cathedral. Colin leaves a note for his mom, climbs into the house to get some sleeping bags and food, and he and Terry go off to a field to sleep in the haystack.
The next day, when they return to Mrs. Wootton’s fish and chips store, they find all the thawed out fish and the potatoes, and set up shop amid the rubble, advertising it as:
“T. Wootton and C. Lockwood. Noted fryers of quality fish. Business as usual. Hot meals on sale. FREE.”
Realizing they have much in common and work so well together, Terry and Colin have by now gone from being mortal enemies to being fast friends. For Colin, the bombing of Exeter serves as the catalyst that helps Colin become a very different person than the boy he was when he woke up on the morning of May 3rd.
The purpose of The Exeter Blitz
not to present the attempt to destroy the cathedral, and what a terrible loss that would be. Though this is Colin’s coming of age story, Rees has also realistically presented each of the Lockwood’s thoughts, feelings and activities up to, during and after the bombing through the use of an omniscient narrator